Wednesday, September 21, 2016

The Drama in a Diminutive World

The weather has heated back up and the humidity has been just short of tolerable.  With stocking sales trickling in and Cheryl's running progressing towards Chicago,  I find myself trying to stay inside as much as possible attempting to stay cool.  Cheryl has been trying to keep her training from being a constant exercise in drudgery.  We have been running in the morning  to avoid the sun and heat.   Despite this strategy,  she has still found herself melting down after seemingly "easy" runs.   The big question is when will fall finally arrive?

The Cutest Voracious Predator
So, with everything about our daily lives caught up.   Time to address the topic of his post.   Drama in our Flower Garden!

Who would want to eat this?
First,  The cat has been catching ( and EATING!) chipmunks lately.   I have found two now.   One "slightly mauled" and another half eaten!    Goodness knows what other "treats" the cat has discovered on his outdoor adventures.  I was so proud of his restraint with the rabbit.   Perhaps he has decided to stop "pulling  his punches" with the smaller stuff.  Who would ever guess under that cute, fuzzy face is a mind of a killer!

Where's the Food!   Where's the FOOD!
Time to dig in!

The hummingbirds have been voracious as of late.   I had to fill up the bird feeder once again before the leaves begin to fall.  My observations suggest that the "defender of the feeder" has moved on and now three "kids" are hitting the feeder like teenagers after a ball game!   I can tell because the three birds do not fight over the food like the parents did. Sometimes two will actually perch on the feeder together. I'll keep it stocked until the bees and yellow jackets take it over.  in the mean time,  I have been offered some great shots  and close ups.

Posing for the camera!

Notice the "comma" 
Nothing brings bugs together like rotten fruit
Speaking of Yellow Jackets,   I have been keeping them off the feeder with some rotten fruit and water melon rinds placed under the Hostas.  The rotting fruit also attract various other insects that have not been attracted by the flowers.
Note the white outline on wings
  Namely this Comma butterfly.   Not the white "C" looking thing in the under wing.   A Comma has only one mark that looks like a comma ( hence the name)  whereas a Question mark butterfly has a comma with a dot nearby.  ( similar, but not exactly like  a question mark)  This one must have just hatched because he has a white outline on his wings and his color is quite vivid.  He will lose the white ruff and bright color as his wings take a beating over the next several weeks. It's always fun to capture them while they are "pristine".

BIG "Scary" funnel spider!
And finally...  the Drama of the Micro World!    Yesterday,  I noted a VERY LARGE spider on our air conditioner.  One of those "funnel Spiders" that hide in the hole of the web until something lands on their dense matting.  And then they jump out and grab it!   This one was SCARY large and I decided to leave it alone and save my self from any future nightmares.    However, today I noticed him in the middle of his web.
I bravely inspect

I bravely inspect "closer"
This struck me a strange because they always hide in the funnel hole of the web and never outside.  A "closer" inspection  suggested he was not in his usual scary pose either.    Hmmm.   Wonder what is going on.

Note the large "blister" on the abdomen
I bravely broom down the web and pull down the spider.   I note that he does not scare the bejesus out of me as I separate him from his web.   Upon an even closer inspection ( now that I'm pretty sure he is DEAD!)  I see that he has what looks like a wound on his abdomen.  Side Note:  It is easy to be brave when the monster looks dead.
The wound looks like it was stabbed or pierced in someway.  So....I put on my best detective hat and begin to come up with theories.

A fight Ensues!
I doubt he was eaten by another spider.   Another spider would have drained him and left him in a web.   Any bird would have eaten him outright and left no trace.   However...   There have been a number of wasps and yellow jackets lately.   I happen to know that certain wasps eat Tarantulas.   But (relatively) small funnel spiders?

Who will win?  It's a death match!
My working theory is this:   A "Stinger" wasp or yellow jacket fall into the web and become tangled.  The spider.... Not a web spinner mind you,  runs out and pounces on the trapped prey...  However.   This is not an easy meal.   Instead of overpowering it directly,  the spider is forced to subdue the wasp in hand to hand combat!    A fight ensues!   The hornets secret weapon is revealed!   An unsuspecting spider "gasps" as a sharpened, venomous stinger plunges deep into its thick abdomen wall.   The venom takes effect immediately;  paralyzing the spider and causing it to shrivel up in the middle of its web.  The hornet pulls free and flies away to safety.  The spider has no hope for survival.

Looks like lady luck chooses yellow!
Not bad eh?   Further evidence for my theory was witnessed as I watched the yellow jackets from the rotting fruit area "discover" the spider I had placed on the sidewalk and began to dismember it.   Within a few minutes,  the entire spider was gone!   ( it took several trips to carry off the pieces!) Now I'm not sure the hornets were targeting it specifically,  or if dead insects or spiders are simply an opportunity to take advantage of.   Whatever the reason,   I was impress that the yellow jackets were able to take it apart so
No sense in wasting it, after all. 

I probably will never know what truly happened.   I have never witnessed the above scenario myself.   Perhaps a "real Bug Guy" would have a better answer and/or theory.  A little research on the web suggests that hornets, wasps and spiders are sometimes equally  matched.  Certain spiders and situations offer advantages over the opponent..but nothing is a given. In the mean time,   I think this could make an interesting story someday.   Provided the writer could deliver it with suspense and action.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Hunting Down All Things Wild and Seasonal in Iowa.

Cheryl has been taking running to a new level recently, by running twice a day instead of only in the mornings.    This helps me because I'm more of an evening person anyway, and I enjoy them far more than early, dewy  mornings.   There is always the risk of the heat being higher than normal,  but with the changing season, comes the cooler air and warm evenings with less humidity.  Basically,  it has become more fun to run as the sun sets.
Hickory nuts

The nuts without their husk
Bitternut hickory,  shagbark hickory
That being said,  Cheryl has been keeping her eyes out for "cool nature things" to experiment with in the shop.   Although we have been selling a few stockings,  there is still a bit of free time to play around with her creativity.   So, in addition to the acorns from the apple orchard,  Cheryl has been collecting  Hickory nuts.  They grow along the same path as many of the black walnut trees, and it took a little investigating to discover their true name...because I did not know first hand the name of this nut.   I actually thought they were hazelnuts.  I guess you learn new things every day!

Even among the Hickories, it looks like there may be variations.   I'm just guessing. I don't really know!  Maybe it is a different nut altogether!   It doesn't matter.   What matters is Cheryl is collecting them for some unknown purpose.  Most likely for a diabolical scheme to take over the planet.

The cooler evenings have brought  out the hunting skills of the cat as well.   Yesterday he brought me a live little bunny!   Isn't he adorable?   This is the second time Hiro has captured one alive for me to pet and put back in the neighbors hedge row.  I think he likes the rabbits of this size best.
Possibly because they are not as fast as the larger adults.  They are, however, more fragile.  And he has accidentally killed a couple in the past.  We'll have to work on his strength control in the future.

A cluster of Hops I gathered. 
Ready for harvest to anyone who wanted to pick them. 
And lastly,   HOPS!  Cheryl wanted to run down the section of path that we usually skip out on.  As a result,  I was able to gather a small cluster of Hops.  Looks like they are in peak harvesting ripeness with the brown tips and light green cones.  I put a cone in my mouth and chewed on it for a few moments to see if the taste had changed since the last time ( was it two weeks ago?).  It HAD!   The flavor started out VERY piney and tapered off to a citrus flavor.   After I spit it out,  the aftertaste was sour and HUGE!   Like a grapefruit mixed with lemon mixed with Pinesole.  Or... A very Hoppy beer!  It is too bad I don't home brew beer.  It seems like a pain and a mess.  But the thought of having my very own Hops gathered from the local biking trail does sound romantic.  I imagine wild hops are not very desireable for the local micro brewing houses around here.  They probably depend on a consistent delivery and easier gathering system.  Anyway,  just thought I would add another "Fruit of the Vine" to the list of possible adult beverage ingredient.

So that is all for now.  I'll leave out the really HUGE apples we saw today, because i did not feel like carrying back the larges sample back to be photographed.  ( It was probably over a pound!)   Chicago is coming up and Cheryl need to focus now.  Our last 20 miler is approaching,  and Cheryl will want to nail it.

OH!  And I almost forgot.... Cheryl registered for The Boston Marathon today.   It has been on her mind all morning and she wanted to make sure she has everything set up and ready.  With all this running news around,  it was no wonder she wanted to run again this evening.   Let's hope she can keep that fire lit for the duration.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Blue Skies, Cool Weather, and a Lazy Cat Hunt.

Cheryl enjoying the weather
Blue skies!
After the storms earlier this week,  and the mud and flood that followed... it is nice to finally have pleasant weather for a change.   The skies are blue with a few fluffy clouds and the humidity has dropped considerably.    Tomorrow will hopefully be another 20 mile run for Cheryl.  She is leaving the possibility open for alternatives should the weather change its mind. We shall see how things go.
So different from Wednesday!
The cat on the prowl!
Cat vs Squirrel!
Both square each other up.
In the mean time,  We have been spending time outside with the cat.  Hiro has been making friends with the local fauna while Cheryl and I watch from the porch or blanket.  I think the squirrels just mess with him, as he has never caught one ( although he has had more than a few opportunities to do so.) and he normally ignores them unless they are being particularly pushy.  Today was one of those days.

Hiro, for some reason,   decided to focus his attention on this squirrel.   A little round-the-rosy and a brief chase and then they both went separate ways... but not before I finally got some pictures.  Yeah!
Looks like the squirrel is just playing. 
Hiro likes playing with Voles the best.
Hiro mostly is interested in voles, chipmunks, grasshoppers, moths, and occasionally a bird.  The squirrel is one of tree that come and destroy the bird feeder from time to time.  One of them has a distinguishable brown tail.  ( It's a gray squirrel with a brown tail...I know it is NOT a fox squirrel)

Now it is just  teasing Hiro.
Hiro gets bored. 
Hope everyone is having a wonderful Friday today.  The weekend is upon us!  Time to kick back and relax while the weather cooperates!

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Cheryl and Ethan's Solon Trail Trials! A Tale of Flooding, Swamp Leeches, Apple Turnovers, and Nuts of Unusual sizes!

Running the Lake Mcbride trail
Or maybe "swimming" the trail
We decided to try the Lake Mcbride Trail near Solon Iowa today.   We have done this before with "mixed" results.   The first time it was covered in snow and mud.   The second time was "perfect"!  And this time....well.   Let us begin from there.

Looks kind of "deep"
Ethan attempts the crossing
The humidity is still up a bit, and the rain had stopped sometime last night.   The clouds promised protection from the sun while not offering any signs of precipitation.  Looked like it would be a good day for a run through nature.

Ethan finds a "deep" spot.
Barely a 1/4 mile down the trail....we hit a rut.    The small creek next to part of the trail had crested its banks and started to cross over the trail.   Not a "huge" problem for me, because I have a bike...right?  NOT so fast!

Notice the rock on the side.
Notice the rock in the "deep" part.
The first time across,  I was able to navigate the waters while only getting most of my shoes wet.   Cheryl decided to take off her socks and shoes to cross,  figuring this would be as bad as it would get.  We were wrong!

On the return, I "found" a washed out hole in the middle of the water....with my front bike tire.   Imagine a bicyclist flying over the handle bars and "sliding into home plate".  Got it?   Now imagine a "chubby" cyclist flying over the handle bars sliding into home plate in the most ungracious way possible.

I dust myself off.  Cheryl puts on her shoes.   We continue.    Until...

The current looks stronger up ahead
And deeper!  With LEACHES!
The next area around the bend is also flooded!    I "cautiously" attempt to cross this one and notice a cute little black worm swimming in the water....wait!   Worms don't "swim!"  We were introduced to the local swamp leeches!  I believe Bill Murray can take it from here:

The Leeches were a deal breaker for Cheryl.   We attempted to run around the paved track, but discovered that the effects of yesterday's rain was still having an impact everywhere.   We packed up and headed to our next event.  Wilson's Orchard.

Cheryl is not amused!
Time for some Apple Cider!
We were forced to wait a bit since they opened at 10 AM.   But Cheryl quickly spent that time finding large acorns!  I'm not sure what type of Oak trees these were, but they all had different acorns to show off.    I tried to capture the differences between the 3-5 different types of trees. My tree identification is a little rusty since my  MSU days.  I'm guessing they were members of the Red Oak family...but that is just a guess.

VERY large acorns!

Compare the 5 species and sizes!
After finding about a dozen or more of them,  we headed into the apple store to buy apples, drink cider, and eat some fresh baked apple turnovers.   Nothing trumps freshness!  And these guys were still warm and flaky!   Yummo!

MMM! Warm and flaky Apple Turnover!
A little taste of .... Heaven!
So we were a little bummed that the event we had been planning on for a week ended up being kind of a dud.   But the Fall is just beginning and some of the apple species are not even out yet.   There is still time to get it right...if we are feeling adventurous again.  We shall see.

Wet feet, dirty clothes!
Time to "scrub up" Ethan
As for now,  I washed up and changed my clothes and hopefully the damage will remain superficial to elbows, knees and wrists.   Luckily, I was wearing my helmet...even thought I did NOT fall on my head.  ( Figures!   The only part of my body that was completely protected never was at risk to begin with.)


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